How good are the Nets? Coach admits not a contender.

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The Brooklyn Nets are going to be one of the more interesting teams to watch come together next season.

They were awful, injury plagued and seemingly unmotivated last season in Jersey, but now they have a new home in Brooklyn and a new roster — Joe Johnson has been added to a re-signed Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. That’s a lineup that should score points and be entertaining to watch.

But how good are they? Coach Avery Johnson put it in perspective speaking to the Dallas Morning News (via the Hang Time blog).

“Deron was a big key to the whole puzzle,’’ Avery Johnson said. “To be able to acquire some other talent through free agency or trades or re-signing some of our own guys, it’s pretty exciting for us. We’re not there yet. We’re not a championship team. We got a lot of work to do. But at the same time, we have a much better talent pool than we’ve had the last two years.

“We’re much more versatile than we’ve ever been. Right now, we look good on paper. Now we got to take it from looking good on paper and apply the work to go (forward).’’

They are not contenders. But they are good. That versatility the coach speaks of comes at a price — the Nets have the second highest payroll in the league and I would be worried about it in a couple of years when Johnson is older and more expensive while Lopez and Williams are still on the books. The future could be a mess.

But the present is going to be pretty good. They are going to put up points if they can stay healthy — Wallace, Lopez and Johnson playing off Williams is a serious set of threats. The measuring stick will be their defense and rebounding. They are not going to be very good at that end, but if Johnson can get them to average on defense they will win a lot of games.

To me the Nets, Knicks and Sixers are all kind of in the same place, likely the middle of the pack in the Eastern conference playoff group (from three to six or so). Health and that work to come together Johnson talks about will be what separates those sides and sets up playoff seedings. Boston could be better than this group during the regular season with their depth but where the Celtics are really dangerous is in the playoffs. The Bulls are hard to read without Derrick Rose for much of the year, but expect them in the middle also.

The Atlantic Division is going to be the toughest division in the NBA next season, with four teams (Boston, Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia) potentially able to win it and the bottom team in Toronto being dangerous and improved. No division is going to be deeper. Which should make for a fun season.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.

Report: Other small-market teams championing Pacers’ tampering allegation against Lakers

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The NBA, at the Pacers’ request, is investigating whether the Lakers tampered by making impressible contact with Paul George.

Bob Kravitz of WTHR

In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”

Small-market teams whine too much about the disadvantages they face, but tampering isn’t really a market-size issue. Remember, under Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers were known as the only team that didn’t tamper.

The Lakers have advantages because George is from the area, and Los Angeles offers immense marketability. That’d be true whether or not they contacted George or his agent before he officially became a free agent.

I understand the desire to take down the big, bad Lakers – especially now that they appear poised to become truly big and bad again. But it’s hard to find a team that can cast a stone at them from anywhere other than a glass house.